Picture this: A video game where you fly around a mystical expanse fighting bad guys in a futuristic and highly-customizable exo-suit that would leave Tony Stark in awe.
Everything about that sentence sounds cool, except somehow, BioWare and their helicopter parent of a publisher Electronic Arts (EA) got it wrong.
After vetting “Anthem” through a closed VIP demo last weekend, EA opened the floodgates for us peons to access the servers of their anticipated 2019 title only three weeks before its Feb. 22 launch. During the three day-long demonstration, players could pick and customize their own “javelin” exo-suit, go on a few missions to experience the gameplay and interact with some of the non-player characters (NPCs).
One of “Anthem’s” strongest suits is its soundtrack, composed by Sarah Schachner. One certainly gets used to listening to it while sitting through the obscenely long loading screens. If the year was 1999 or 2009, this would be forgivable. If there were several short and sweet loading screens, or one very long one, that would be fine. But it is 2019, and with that comes the expectation that huge names like BioWare and EA will have their acts together when it comes to making the best use of the technology available.
The game is accompanied by many more technology problems, such as enemies disappearing, flags flapping around without a regard for gravity and audio cutting out for entire segments at random. The recoil of some weapons were so unrefined that the camera would glitch out.
Rest assured that most of the issues will be patched in the first few weeks after it’s launch. Unfortunately, underneath these problems is a broken game.
It is very clear that EA is trying to introduce their own spin on Bungie and Activision’s 2014 “Destiny,” which pairs players together to go on episodic missions against copy and pasted bullet-sponge villains. “Anthem” runs into the classic problem of trying to emulate something else while forging its own identity. As a result, it feels as if “Anthem” is too afraid to capitalize on its strengths, while spending time trying to be something it is not.
As a freelancer, you pilot your own “javelin” suit, an exoskeleton with cool guns, customizable paint jobs and flight capabilities. And that is awesome. This is the high point of gameplay: Flying around and exploring the beautiful landscape. Sadly, BioWare rips you from this mechanic as often as possible. It feels like your suit’s jump jets overheat too quickly before you are forced to land and hoof it to your next objective.
Additionally, the game teleports you to your teammates if it thinks you are lagging behind. This means you experience the game at the pace of the fastest teammate you have been paired with by a matchmaking algorithm. This is true for the story objectives and combat in the game.
“Anthem’s” combat is heavily reminiscent of BioWare’s last title, “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” It is interesting, but can be boring when you are pouring seemingly harmless bullets into enemies.
The fights with nameless and faceless enemies always seem to boil down to a race against your teammates to see who can kill the bad guys first. This might be appealing for groups of friends playing in multiplayer mode, but there seems to be very little accommodation for solo players like me. Even though BioWare has said the game will let you play alone, the demo either did not contain this or did a poor job of directing me to this option.
Furthermore, difficulty boils down to how much health the enemies have and how much damage they do, as opposed to the strategy players need to adopt to fight them. This means that enemies are most optimized to be fought in groups. It is unclear if the health and damage of enemies would be modified in a hypothetical single-player mode.
“Anthem” is a beautiful game with a unique and interesting core concept, but suffers from being unable to establish its own identity among the other games out there and is, in its current state, unenjoyable.
Hopefully the first few weeks after launch see extensive bug-fixing on the part of BioWare to at least bring the game up to a state of playability.
“Anthem” launches Feb. 22, and is only available on EA’s launcher, Origin.